Saturday, December 20, 2003

Happy Holidays

Well, it is off to Las Vegas for the holidays.  I'm wheels up from Skopje, Macedonia at 7am.  Flying from Skopje is always a treat because the airport is such a mess and the people are truly amazing.  There seems to be little concept of order when standing in's kind of a push to the front and whoever reaches the counter first, wins!!!  I'm traveling light this year so I can bring back lots of supplies with me (cake mix, spices, long johns!)  I am looking forward to going home to see my family and friends.  It has been an entire year since I've been in the US and I miss the simple things like window-shopping at the mall or meeting friends for dinner at Tony Roma's (yes, that would be Neil & Angela!)  Thinking of food I miss, I'm craving a Taco Bell's 7-layer burrito, Papa John's Pizza with dipping sauce, and steak with lobster! You think you have a problem with weight during the holidays?!?  
The snow was a little late this year.  It just snowed this week and not that much...thankfully because most of the UN-staffers are going home to their families this weekend and it would be a disaster if the airport closed!  But I enjoyed it!  It was a surprise to take Smokey outside and find snow on the ground.  And there is something incredibly peaceful about the silence there is when it is snowing.  It feels like you are the only person in the world...that is until Smokey pulls me along and I remember he is there :)  He seems to enjoy the snow as well...sniffing around and trying to catch snowballs!

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving

I managed to score a Thanksgiving Turkey this year!  Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is a US holiday, so I had to work on Thursday.  But I didn't let that stop me.  I gathered a small group of friends at my flat on Saturday evening and we had an evening of laughter and fun.  The power was fortunately on all the way through the cooking of the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and spiced wine.  Then when it came time to carve the turkey and put the cheesecake in the oven, zap!  The power goes off!  It was an interested experience trying to carve the turkey using a head-lamp (flashlight that you wear on your head - think miner) and not only that, but I didn't have a carving set, so I had to use a regular fork and the biggest knife I had in my set!  Of course, the cheesecake didn't cook properly so it ended up being more of a cheese-glop that anything!  But it tasted great :)
Earlier this month, Didem and I went to the second finger of Halkadiki (Sithonia), Greece (AGAIN!)  We stopped by Ikea in Thessaloniki and had a blast shopping.  The normal busy summer life of Halkadiki was non-existent in November.  The few stores that were open in October during our last trip were now closed.  The whole place was basically shut-down with few places to eat or shop.  I think in the future during the off-season, I'll head to Thessaloniki for some fun.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Watching Istanbul

What a crazy world we live in now-a-days. I've spent the morning in a cafe watching the news with Didem, my Turkish "sister", as she frantically tried to get in touch with her friends and family.

One friend that works in security thinks that Kosovo will be hit in the near future. I asked why because there really is nothing of interest here...but the reply was a simple, it is a soft target. It's somewhat frightening to imagine that there is someone out there filled with enough hate that they want to kill you just because of what passport you carry.

The Iraq War has created some divisions in our office. Last summer, we were a tight knit group but this year, it is split into sub-groups. One colleague declared that he did not want to hang out with me because I was supporting the war. He never actually tried to ask me what my viewpoint was but only saw that in the first days, I wore an American flag scarf in support of the troops (of course, I did support the war because I thought Saddam needed to be taken out of power, WMD or not.) But it was interesting to see how people judge you on the foreign or domestic policies of your country rather than your individual opinions!

I asked Didem, my Turkish girlfriend, why Al-Quida would strike Turkey and she told me that it most likely was because they were a Muslim country but not all followed the ideals of strict Islam. Then we thought about Saudi Arabia. Now there is a fairly strict Islamic state but struck by Al-Quida...because the royal family has too many ties to the Western world. I think that there must be no country in the world, except maybe former Afghanistan, that can satisfy the wants of Al-Quida.

Have you heard the song by the Black Eyed Peas called "Where is the Love"? There is part of the song that talks about the media and negative images are the main criteria. But sometimes I wonder if maybe there is more bad to report than good. Everywhere you look, it seems that there is death, destruction, and mayhem. I think I can relate to Didem's anguish after watching the events of Sept 11 unfold from my hotel room in Germany in 2001.  I think of this attack as a Turkish Sept 11th....

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

CITS Road Rally III

After coming in 1st Place at the last two Road Rallies, it was time to help out planning one.  CITS Chief Jim Martin was leaving the mission in a few weeks so we held a Road Rally mid-September.  With two other IT colleagues, we planned a route through Kosovo taking participants from Pristina to Batlava Lake to Ferizaj in an all-day event.  Things went without a hitch except for one vehicle that ignored our 4X4 advice and got stuck in the mud (the driver decided to plow down the middle of the mud rather than going through the shallow right side as we suggested...and also ignored the advice to let the best 4X4 driver take the wheel at that point!)  
The next Road Rally is probably going to be held in the springtime (May 2004.)  Already during this rally, one of the colleagues asked if I would like to help plan the next route...and someone needs to watch him or else it will turn into a 4X4 motocross event!!!

Friday, July 4, 2003

Happy 4th of July

Luckily this year, the 4th of July was on a Friday!  That meant that I could party it up after working with friends.  I decided to stick with good, ol' tradition and have a BBQ in my yard.  Bondsteel supplied me with hot dogs, corn on the cob, and hamburger buns.  I was able to get burger patties at one of the local butchers.  So we fired up the grill, cranked up the music, and had a really great night :) 

I normally do not advertise the fact that there is an international living where I do with a big flag hanging off my balcony (I do have one hanging inside in my living room but that's for my personal gratification) but for the 4th, I made an exception.  I decorated my balcony with white lights, hung a big American flag up, and decorated the tables, fence, and rest of the balcony with small flags.  It almost felt like I was at home in the US...I even had some sparklers which my friends had never seen before :)

Friday, May 30, 2003

Spring Flowers

I purchased a couple rose bushes off the street earlier this month and I should have known that if I left them anywhere that Smokey could reach them, he would be tempted to chew on them.  Well, luckily he did one evening and I discovered that one of them had started growing.  I took Emin out with me and we planted a row of flowers along the house and sporadically along the sidewalk where his father and Nena like to sit.  My blooming rose bush went in the ground next to my door and lo-and-behold, I had tiny little roses the next week!

As for my planters on the balcony, I am having some trouble with Smokey going outside and coming back with muddy paws when I'm not watching him.  I don't know how many times I've had to replant my bulbs after finding half of the dirt on the balcony and bulbs under the coffee table of my living room!  I hope that the flowers will bloom :)  I think next year I will have to find some larger planters or find the hangers for the railing to get them out of his reach.

I've also been taking walks with Smokey in the evenings when I get home from work.  I've been walking down the road into Gracanica and then turning off to a dirt track that goes along the fields behind our house.  He loves running around and sniffing (and peeing on - what a man!) everything :)  He did manage to roll in what I believed to be cow manure while I was inspecting some flowers so I am keeping an eye on where he is going from now on *eww*  He made friends with some other dog near the fields and spends a little bit of time frolicking around with the group that lives there.  I'm just a little worried that he might get fleas from the other dogs :-P~  Rabies is not a problem in Kosovo, in fact, according to my vet, there haven't been any cases in the region for quite a few years.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Stray Dogs in Kosovo

This month, I gave a speech on Stray Dogs in Kosovo because it has been and is continuing to be a problem all around Kosovo.  There are some 50,000 stray dogs in Kosovo and each year, the number will continue to jump unless we do something about it.  I myself have taken two litters of puppies born underneath the containers of Mission HQ to the Kosovo Society for the Protection of Animals (KAPS).

Monique Fienberg founded KAPS and the animal shelter is nicknamed Monique�s Puppy Centre. The center is located near Pristina in one of the outlying villages.  KAPS takes in stray dogs and then later re-introduces them into homes and even one very special dog to the UN compound (Missy is the resident UNMIK HQ dog that everyone loves.)

Females are sterilized and sent back onto the street. Male dogs are attracted to the female dogs and are less likely to fight amongst themselves for her attention. Purebred dogs known for aggression are not repatriated but put to sleep.

KAPS has opened a shelter and is offering dogs for adoption. Potential owners are interviewed but already two dogs were taken back due to neglect. Monique would like to have a more active interview process where owners are visited after 6 months of ownership to check the suitability of the owners but this will take time and dedication on the part of the local and international population.

Shooting of dogs by KFOR has created a problem more serious than before
  • Children Tramatized by witness of death of their pet
  • Friendly dogs killed first
  • W/out friendly dogs, new generations do not learn that behavior
  • KFOR killed 7 of 9 �re-patriated� dogs in Pristina
  • Normal society does not shoot dogs at 6pm on the main street of its capital

In January 2003 in Istok, a 7 yr old boy was killed by a pack of dogs on his way to school. Adults tried to intervene but were unable to assist. Boy died from injuries.

Illegal dog fighting is becoming a more serious and is a problem in Kosovo. 16-25 year old men see pets as a status symbol and typically purchase dogs known for aggression. There are 6-8 fighting cells for dog fighting and gambling and it is believed to be tied to mafia. While some police officers have expressed an interest in stopping the illegal dog fighting the police as a whole have not.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

A Reflection at the New Year and Kosovo Life (Humorous)

I have now been in the Kosovo mission for 1 1/2 years.  How time has flown and at other times, dragged on like the day would never end!!!  I have to say that I've learned quite a bit about life and the world.  And I've learnt to have more patience.  I noticed when sitting in traffic on the I-95 that I'm not frustrated to be delayed, I just relax and listen to the music.
What can I say about Kosovo?  Well, one thing that comes to mind is "time-warp"!  While the rest of the world relies on automobiles, some places in Kosovo still rely on horse and cart...and the more inventive "Kosovo Harley", which consists of a roto-tiller connected to a cart that can be driven down the street (Check the humorous Kosovo Driver's Handbook).  Often traffic on the highway is held up due to tractors, farm equipment, and the occasional power-saw-on-wheels that is being driven down the main road.  Naturally, it is done during peak hours as to cause the maximum amount of delays as possible :-D

Another thing that you won't fail to miss after being in Kosovo for awhile is what we call the "UN song".  Duh-duh duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH!!!    This reoccurring song is heard throughout the streets of Pristina on a regular basis, especially near HQ.  The song rings out loud and proud whenever a staff member fails to put the keys in the ignition of the vehicle within 30 seconds of opening the door.  There is an alternative wording to the song that goes a little like...I-am-a-dumb-@$$---And-I-just-got-here---I-for-got-the-car-alarm.

Parking is interesting as well.  It is basically wherever you can find a free spot to fit your vehicle.  This applies to on the road, on the sidewalk, half on the sidewalk-half on the road, or even in the middle of the street double-parked if only for a few minutes while you shop in the local market!!!  The favorite phrase when double-parking is "ein minute" which is strangely German for one minute.

Now this means one Kosovo minute which equates to 10-15 in American minutes.  Time is also slowed down in Kosovo.  Turkish time is also about 5-10 minutes late (sorry, Didem!) and UN time is usually 30 minutes late to not-gonna-happen.  Back to Kosovo time...if you arrange a meeting, it is better that you arrive on time or at least five minutes late because if you arrive early or on-time, you will end up waiting for the other person to show up.  Now if the person you are meeting is courteous, they will usually call that they are running late...but you will get a phone call every single time you meet that they are late!!!